App Marketing

App Developer Conversations: Google Play allows developer responses – good or bad idea?

In this week’s App Developer Conversations we led a conversation about Google Play enabling developer responses to comments in the app store.

We had a few key takeaways:

  • This is going to create a headache for publishers of apps in multiple app stores
  • There’s a meaningful risk that the comment threads will result in a deteriorated consumer experience

Also, be sure to see the other two segments from this week:

The Transcript:

Robi: Good morning. Welcome to another installment of App Developer
Conversations. As always, I’m joined by Ian Sefferman, of MobileDevHQ,
and Ryan Morel, of PacePlay. This week, we’re not talking about the
Seahawks, fortunately. We are going to talk about Google Play, more
broadly, allowing developers to make comments in the App Store.

For those of you who don’t remember, about 4 or 5 months ago, Google
Play said the top developers were going to be able to respond to
comments in the App Store. Last week, they announced that they’re
[inaudible: 00:33] more broadly and allowing more of the developers
overtime, in order to respond. First question for you Ian is: You hear
about this? What’s your reaction? What do you think?

Ian: My reaction is that it’s potentially a bad thing, which is that app
consumers now have this ability to talk to a developer publicly. The
review section of Google Play should be reserved for more subjective,
‘This is why you should download this app,’ advice to others. Now if
the developers can respond, my concern is that consumers will be using
that as a feedback mechanism to get personal help making the review
section, essentially, worthless.

Robi: Yeah. What do you think, Ryan?

Ryan: Now I’ve had some time to think about it, and I think this is going
to be an epic disaster for everybody, except for you. For you it’s
going to be like, “I read about this guy this morning who found a 12-
pound gold nugget, and Google just brought him a metal detector and
said, “Search in this 4×4 area. You might find something, you like”;
because this is going to be bad. I think it sounds great in theory.
People have always complained about not be able to respond to
comments. I think they were always saying, “We want to be able to
respond to comments privately, but not publicly.” Every developer who
responds is opening themselves up to further criticism. Yes, I think
this could be really bad.

Robi: I’ll reserve some comments for the end, because I think that we’re a
little biased in this. Let’s move on to another aspect of this, which
is the recent move from Google is that you have to use your Google+
account in order to make comments, to give feedback, to rate a review
and app in App Store. Is this commenting capability actually a play on
getting on more action for Google+ or getting more data?

Ryan: I’m sure it’s a play for get more data; it’s always a play to get
more data when you’re Google. Do I think that the commenting system in
particular is a huge impact on that? Certainly, I liked the idea of
making this Google+ integration, mostly because it takes away the more
anonymous qualities of the reviews, and that’s a plus, in my book. You
see quality go up when people can’t hide behind a fake name.

Robi: Right.

Ian: Yeah, that’s . . .

Robi: Then if we think about this from the aspect of Facebook, what they’re
doing in order to help app developers. Last week, we were talking
about Facebook app installs and their advertising programs going to
mobile developers. They’re helping you try and understand who among
your friends is using what app, and then they’re also trying to help
display apps that you should discover. Google is over here getting
more data and comment reviews, that sort of thing. It seems that these
guys are fighting on so many fronts, and now the mobile app space is a
big part. What do you think about that?

Ryan: It’s hard to think about it, because a lot of it all revolves around
identity; who owns the identity? Now we’ve got 3 people involved on
iOS, and there’s Google over here. I don’t even know. You sit back and
go, ‘It’s Google here, it’s Facebook, Twitter and Game Center over
here. I don’t really know what to do.” It’s just mind boggling. I
don’t necessarily understand the play, I guess, ultimately what I’m
getting at. I don’t get it.

Robi: Got it. I wonder if it will lead to more activity with Google+ just
because so many folks who have an Android phone now by default have a
Gmail account, a Google+ account, and a Google Play account; they’re
all linked. It seems maybe this will draw more people in the
ecosystem, give them more of a reason to come back, help strengthen it
and attract more attention.

Ryan: I wonder, you could check, but where does the conversation happen?
Does it take place inside of Google Play? If I leave a comment, and
you as a developer respond to me, does that go to my Google+ page and
I respond there?

Robi: I think that, as I understand it on the face of it, the way it works
is I can respond to your comment, and then you as the consumer have
the option to actually respond via email to me, and then it can
potentially go to email. I’m not sure that that’s default activity.
The way that Google+ files it, it’s not really clear that Google+ is
bringing this activity public. If it is, or if that’s an option,
there’s a whole other access for you as a consumer to be thinking
about, “Did I make this comment publicly across all my Google+?” It’s

Ian: Yeah.

Robi: I’ll talk a little bit about how we’re thinking about this, because
we’ve been hearing from developers over the past several months since
this has rolled out. It’s generally like you said, they did drop a
really big gold nugget in front of us because a lot of developers,
once they start playing with this are like, “A: I’m in multiple app
stores, so now I have to treat Google Play different than the rest of
these.” That’s frustrating and pretty annoying, so they come to us,
and they look at one management console with all their apps across
platforms with similar inboxes and it’s a much easier experience. B:
This notion that the App Store ratings and reviews are now going to be
hijacked and turned into these feature conversations. In particular,
the squeaky wheel getting the grease in this scenario is really bad.
The incentive is so negative that you could be a very popular app
developer and have a ratings and review section that ends up being
just full of 2 or 3 really noisy people. People are very concerned
about that.

Ryan: Yeah.

Robi: I think the third thing is that there’s definitely a notion,
especially in public commenting spaces, where vitriol and being loud
is rewarded, so you more likely have that, actually, that cycle and
the wheel spin faster. People are going to be like, “I’m going to be
noisier than that other guy because I’m now going to get some
attention from EA.”

Ryan: Right.

Robi: I think that’s concerning. We’ll see. The other side is I’m really
glad to see somebody, one of the app stores, innovating around ratings
and reviews, and trying to think about how to get developers closer to
the customers. I think that, fundamentally, is really exciting; that’s
great. Kudos to Google for trying something there, but I think it’s
going to be really challenging.

Ryan: Yeah. I’d rather them not try; that’s how bad I think this could end
up being.

Robi: Yeah.

Ryan: Great, you tried. Congratulations on screwing it up for a bunch of
people. My biggest worry would be some developer gets skewered because
of 1 or 2 people who are assholes.

Ian: This actually brings up a really interesting question. Maybe it’s not
the right time for it, but we all 3 agree immediately that it’s a bad
idea, but 6 months ago or 3 months ago, everybody is like, “People are
leaving the terrible reviews and developers have no way to comment on
it.” What would you have done if you were Google? Just been like, “No,
not at all?” Or would you have been like, “Partner with Apptentive”?

Ryan: I would have maybe done that. Frankly, if I were Google, given how
much they screw some of the stuff up, I would have gone, “Let’s just
wait to see what Apple does and then we’ll copy them.” If Apple hasn’t
done any apps, there must be a good reason for that, especially with
the . . . I don’t think it’s a secret; they just don’t know what
they’re doing yet, they’re learning as they go, and that’s perfectly
okay. They’ve created a really thriving and growing ecosystem, but
they’re probably not the ones to be driving decisions, as far as I’m

Robi: I could see that. I don’t think that Apple’s going to lead the way on
customer communications. I don’t think that the DNA of Apple is going
to embrace your customer base and go talk to them on a regular basis.
I don’t know if they think that way.

Ryan: I don’t know. We see evidence that they suggest that they do that.
It’s always about protecting the customer. Preventing people from
changing screenshots, which were leading to people screwing up, and
that was definitely done to protect consumers. There’s a bunch of
stuff now around preventing kids from getting access to an app
purchase, so people have to turn it off and all this stuff. I don’t
know. I’m fanboy-ish, so it’s okay.

Robi: It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. I don’t know that I
have great answer to what I would have done in Google’s spot, aside
from partnering with us, of course. I’m excited to see more people
realizing that it’s important to have conversations with the
customers. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will raise the
importance of doing that, and we’ll learn along the way. Hopefully,
it’ll end up being a better place for us as consumers, as opposed to
something that we feel like we can’t trust anymore because it’s just
too noisy.

Thanks for watching this installment. Be sure to Like it and share it
with friends. Check out the other installments from Ryan and Ian this
week. Thanks

App Developer Conversations – What the Popcap layoffs mean to the games industry

In this week’s App Developer Conversations with Ian Sefferman of MobileDevHQ and Ryan Morel of PlacePlay we discussed Popcap’s announcement this week that they’ll be laying off ~50 people. The net of the conversation is that the move to mobile and social games is happening much faster than even the most sophisticated of companies can anticipate. Watch to find out more and be sure to see the other two videos from this week:

We hope you enjoy this series – please let us know in the comments about future topics you might want to hear about and if you have anything to add to the discussion!

The Transcript
Robi: Hello. Welcome to App Developer Conversations. I’m here with Ryan
Morel, CEO of PlacePlay, and Ian Sefferman, CEO of MobileDevHQ, and I’m
Robi Ganguly from Apptentive. Let’s just jump into it.

This week, PopCap announced that they’re going to be laying off about 50
people here in North America and that they’re going to be evaluating their
operation in Dublin. In talking about it in his blog post, the CEO of
PopCap stated that the reason for it was that the move, to quote him, “was
that in the past year, we’ve seen a dramatic change in the way people play
and pay for games. Free-to-play, social, and mobile games have exploded in
popularity. It happened fast, surprisingly so.” So, they were shocked. They
had to do some reduction in force really quickly because of this move.
Let’s discuss what this means for mobile apps in general.

Ryan: I think it’s probably a proxy for what’s going on in the rest of what
we call “the traditional publisher world.” We saw this a little bit in
mobile when we moved from the carrier distribution model to smart phones,
where the big guys were slow, like glue, had big problems. This is probably
happening on a much greater scale with people like EA, Activision, etc.,
because their business is set up to build these huge multimillion dollar
franchises that take two years.

Now you’re presented with a market that favors much smaller, faster,
cheaper, lower quality titles that need to be pumped out in three to nine
months. How do you restructure your entire business not only from a
development perspective, but also from a distribution, marketing, and
monetization perspective? That’s obviously really difficult, and just
speaking for myself, I was really surprised by PopCap being really honest
about this, simply because we always assumed they’re doing so well. This
doesn’t mean that they’re not, but it means that they’re seeing changes
affecting their business in a negative way.

Ian: I would actually go so far as to say that this isn’t necessarily only
to gain publishers, and that kind of thing. This is actually pretty
widespread in the start-up community. We talk a lot about how start-ups now
just simply take less capital. You can get more things done quicker, and
that can hurt a lot of incumbents very fast. So, it’s not necessarily just
a games publisher thing. I think it’s more, this is how technology is
progressing, and it’s becoming cheaper, and quicker, and easier to fund,
and easier to build. A hit isn’t as big of a hit anymore. It’s no longer
that you’re going to get $100 million dollar franchise out of something.
You might get a $10 million dollar franchise out of something. So, I think
that’s interesting as well.

Robi: I think something that strikes me about this is just the fact that
the business cycle is really speeding up. We’ve seen changes in the games
industry. Typically, companies know in advance that their business is
deteriorating, and if they’re going to do layoffs, oftentimes they do it in
the form of stopping hiring. They might have 50 open heads, and they end up
saying, “Okay, our business is changing, so we’re going to cut it to 25
open heads.”

But the fact that they had to actively say, “This portion of our company
was good a year ago, when we had these plans, and now it’s not and we have
to lay people off,” says to me, “Wow, it’s moving so fast that a
sophisticated company like PopCap, that’s historically been really well
managed, was caught off guard.” That’s a little bit scary.

Ryan: Yeah. I think to your point, you see different variations of this.
We’ve seen it recently with Nokia saying they’re going to lay off X
thousands of people by 2014. Being in a small company, you look at that and
go, “What are you talking about? If you need to lay these people off, you
do it today.” I think to both of your points, it’s interesting to see how
these big established business approach things very differently than start-
ups do, especially in the scenario where start-ups are part of the reason
why they’re getting crushed.

The iPhone, obviously, is the big driver behind Nokia’s issues, but you
could make a pretty valid argument, potentially, that what really is
hurting Nokia is the fact that Apple has thousands of developers building
apps for them and keeping that ecosystem really strong, and that’s hurting
Nokia just as much. I think that’s an interesting point.

Ian: I think another thing that I see coming out of this is that when you,
typically, are an established game company with a big brand and lots of
distribution, like selling boxes into Wal-Mart, for example, there are only
a few companies in the world that really do that successfully. Pop-Cap is

The fact that they’re feeling like the assets that they had to communicate
to people, to distribute their copies of the game, are not actually assets
anymore, that they’re not successfully maintaining that businesses, says a
lot about the fragmentation of people’s attention to games. Being a PopCap
doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

Ryan: I think that’s exactly right. Distribution used to be a competitive
advantage to PopCap. No longer, because distribution is totally
democratized by Apple and by Google.

Robi: Yeah. Although, and you guys help solve this problem in particular,
the advantages of distribution in the App Store are varied. It’s a black
box in many ways. What would you advise if you were to sit down with PopCap
and say, “Clearly, you’re moving to mobile. You’ve got to be thinking more
about how to create advantages in this new world of distribution. How would
you go about that?”

Ian: I think there’s a lot to be said to actually putting together the paid
side and the organic side in order to do well within the app store. So, in
rankings, in search, driving people from ads elsewhere, from other apps. I
think the more you look at app distribution, the more you have to be
sophisticated and really think of a multichannel approach, and that
multichannel approach makes every channel better.

Ryan: This kind of [delves] into our conversation from last week about
Zynga. I think what we’re going to see is similar to what Zynga’s doing,
where companies are going to try to do manage their customer relationships
and those engagements a little bit differently than they have been today. A
year ago, everyone was relying on OpenFeint to create these faux-
communities. Now people use Game Center. But those aren’t engagement
solutions, and they don’t allow PopCap to have one-to-one interactions,
like something that you guys do.

Ian: Yeah. It’s totally what we’re trying to enable, because we think this
fragmentation’s a huge problem, and if you don’t have a relationship with
the end-consumer, if you’re used to distribution being something you can
count on, and that moves away from you because the app store is not
featuring you anymore, for example, if you don’t have that ability to talk
to somebody, you’re dead in the water, it seems like.

Ryan: Yep. There are a series of articles on our blog right now about
engaging consumers via social media. The guy ha we talked to has done a
fantastic job with community marketing, and it’s really interesting to hear
him talk about how companies should be stepping back from marketing a
feature, and talk more about, “We’re going to create this emotional
connection, and we’re part of your life,” community marketing stuff.

I think we’re going to see more of that as companies realize, “Hey, me just
putting out this content, and relying on this black box of distribution
isn’t good enough. I really need to own this customer engagement, and this
customer interaction.” I think that’s going to be really interesting.

Robi: Any last words on this topic?

Ian: No. I think it’s super interesting. We’ll see how it plays out. My
thoughts certainly go with the people who got laid off. I have a feeling
that they’ll be totally fine and will be able to find great work, and I
look forward to seeing what PopCap does. I think they’re really
interesting, ultimately.

Ryan: I’d echo that.

Robi: Yeah, definitely the folks who have been laid off, thoughts to those
guys. Thanks for joining us. Be sure to check out the other videos we’ve
got coming today.

Ian: Let’s start out with an example. I think that the biggest and best
example right now is probably Uber, where they are a sole mobile play, but
everything that they do is based in the offline world, based in getting
around, going places, where they’re driving .

App Developer Conversations – How does Zynga impact mobile app developers?

We’re kicking off a weekly video series that we’re calling App Developer Conversations this week that features myself, Ian Sefferman of MobileDevHQ and Ryan Morel of PlacePlay. We’ll be focusing on short video conversations about issues facing app developers, new opportunities to promote and monetize your apps and whatever else we think is relevant. Be sure to check out the MobileDevHQ blog and PlacePlay blog to see their videos from each week as well.

This week I led our discussion about Zynga, their mobile strategy and how it impacts mobile app developers. We had a few key takeaways:

  • Zynga’s existing mobile strategy appears to be highly acquisition-focused; it’s unclear whether or not this will lead to long-term success (although we’re skeptical).
  • Having mobile “DNA” is particularly important and we don’t see that being true for Zynga at this time
  • Most mobile app developers have nothing to worry about with respect to Zynga, but if you’re working on games that are similar to their strategy (i.e. Games with Friends) you should probably be a bit more concerned about what you’re working on.

We hope you enjoy this series – please let us know in the comments about future topics you might want to hear about and if you have anything to add to the discussion!


The transcript

I’m Robi Ganguly of Apptentive, and I’m here with Ryan Morel of PlacePlay,
and Ian Sefferman of MobileDevHQ. We’re here to talk about app development,
discuss what’s going on and potentially talk about new opportunities. So
quick intro, could you tell us about what you do at MobileDevHQ?

Ian: Yes absolutely, I’m Ian at MobileDevHQ we’re doing apps for
optimization. Which is essentially as SEO for mobile apps. So we help app
developers rank more highly in App Store search.

Robi: Awesome. And how about you, Ryan, what are you working on at

Ryan: My name is Ryan Morel, I’m the CEO of PlacePlay. We help app
developers make more money with targeted advertising. It’s really simple.

Robi: Like I said, I’m Robi, with Apptentive. And what we do is help app
developers talk to their customers more effectively. We think app stores
are great for distribution, but they are the last place for customer
conversations. We fix that problem, and get people higher ratings,
downloads, and higher customer retention. So let’s just jump right in to
it. Let’s talk about Zynga. We know their growth on the web is flattening
, and they’ve been saying mobile is a real big growth area in terms of
where people are spending time. But it doesn’t seem like their monetization
strategy is keeping up with that. What do you think the pros and cons are
of their mobile strategies today?

Ryan: I think it’s been interesting, because it’s clearly, up until
recently been a secondary platform for that, right. So as their DAU’s on
the web, going like this? It was like we really don’t need to focus on
mobile, but now the DAU’s for the web are going, “I guess mobile is a much
bigger concern”. So I think that created two problems for them. So one,
it set expectations that were unrealistic. And two there’s no favorite
nation status on mobile. So Facebook, clearly Zynga did do a lot of thing
right, Facebook made them. They had that favored nation status there’s no
way to get it on mobile. So trying to compete fair and square with other
well-capitalized companies that know mobile really well, has clearly proven
hard for them. And I think we are starting to get to a point where we’re
maybe seeing some reactionary moves; as opposed to like strategic moves.
So “Draw Something” was a fantastic game that’s doing really well, but they
may have over payed for that a little bit. Considering what it’s done
since acquiring it.

Robi: What about you Ian?

Ian: I think “Draw Something” is a great example of where Zynga’s doing
wrong. On the web front we can talk about whether or not Zynga’s actually
innovative in their game design, but the [EA suite] has been clear that
maybe they weren’t. But, on the mobile front they I think they didn’t even
try right. Most of their mobile efforts are acquisitions, so they really
have no core DNA in mobile yet. If they want to acquire in order to build
that core DNA then, that’s actually, I think, very smart. If they’re just
acquiring to try to find the next hot thing, it’s never going to work out.
Because at the time you’ve bought it, it’s already going to be on its way
down. So figuring out how they can build mobile into the core DNA is, I
think, their biggest challenge.

Robi: I think that DNA issue is often underestimated in its importance.
So we see lots of game companies and EA’s one of them with a studio
acquisition strategy, right. They’ll buy, oh you’re successful at this you
are developing this, so were going to buy you and bring you in-house, and
then that one time they were successful was really an aberration it wasn’t
consistent. And because it was an internal DNA they don’t know why they
strayed away from success. They don’t know how to lead a company back to
being good at it. I think that’s underestimated, so. I’d be most concerned
with Zynga if I was them about that lack of really understanding and the
feeling around how to do mobile correctly, and how to evolve with it.

Ryan: I think that’s a really interesting point. I’m not trying to
diminish the accomplishments of OMGPOP, because it clearly has a fantastic
game. That company was dead on vines, right. And “Draw Something” was
their hit title. So much like Angry Birds who has parlayed their success,
Rovi was a nobody. And they’ve done a bunch of stuff and it all failed. So
I’m not convinced that those acquisitions and their acquisition strategy is
buying that core DNA. It seems to me like if they went after, I’m giving
Zynga and EA advice. It’s very presumptuous. Like if they went after
somebody like Z2Live here in Seattle or Back-flip or some of these other
guys who were built from the ground up on mobile, that’s probably the way
to get that core team that you guys are both talking about.

Robi: So I think were saying quite a bit about the DNA, their acquisition
strategy may be maybe it’s questionable . Maybe it’s not the best way to
acquire DNA. But if you’re a mobile app developer you’re scared of them.

Ryan: If I was a mobile, no. The only thing I’d be scared of is their
ability to outspend me in these acquisitions. And their ability to get
they’re monetization metrics right. But I’m not sure if it’s there, at
this point. They’re no different than anybody else, right. If I’m a
mobile app developer I’m way more worried about GREE or DNA, or some of
these other guys who are spending huge dollars on these acquisitions.

Ian: Yeah, I actually think that’s sort of dead on. I would be worried
from the standpoint of are they going to artificially going to inflate
prices in ads, in driving user acquisition. I think most mobile developers
especially in the gaming space, have much more to worry about in terms of
building an awesome game then they do in terms of their competition coming.
I wouldn’t worry about Zynga.

Ryan: Sorry for interrupting, I guess the only thing I’d be worried about
is them copying me.

Robi: I think that’s what I was going to talk about. If your mobile app
developer in general, Zynga may not be on the radar, but if you are making
specific types of games. Particularly games that have this with friends
aspect trying to be social and viral in that sense, you’d probably be more
worried. Because if you’re coming with something that you think is
innovative, there’s a decent chance that they’re going to find out they
might copy you or they might come talk to you and you’ve got to be thinking
maybe about those situations six months before. Whereas, most app
developers don’t have to be thinking about that problem.

Ryan: I would say also, and I think we kind of glossed over this a little
bit. That Zynga did really make a good acquisition with Newtoy. That
“With Friends” series is clearly proven to be a good one or them, but maybe
not huge but overall profitable for them. So I guess that would solve for
some of their mobile DNA stuff, because those guys clearly had a bunch of
experience. So, we should be fair none of us are running public companies.

Robi: And to be fair, none of us are running public companies. Right?

Ian: Also true.

Robi: They’re doing a great job. So I like to take the conversation a
little bit back to Facebook, which we talked about on the previous
segment. And one of the things that Zynga really did in order to grow, was
they really understood that the canvas on which you were building your
game, was a place not just to have the game, but to show related activity
from friends and then your friends can bring you back into games. And the
space in Facebook on the web allows for that; but on a mobile device you
know, we are really limited. Do you think that changes the dynamic of how
they’ve been growing? And part of this shift to mobile that’s hard, is
that they don’t have as much space to work with, or that they don’t have as
many as tools that are affective?

Ryan: Yes, I think that’s a big part of it. And as we also talked about
before, while we were talking about Facebook, it’s hard to really
understand how people are engaging with Facebook on mobile. I just don’t
know enough. I know for me, it’s like a quick scan versus the web. It’s
like slow I don’t read everything I don’t look at everything, so it’s a
little different. That takes away a big adherent advantage that they have,
so yes, I think that’s a challenge.

Ian: Ditto. I think, back when Zynga started and was using Facebook
effectively, Facebook was the most spammy site out there, and Zynga was at
the top of that list. Facebook has close that down, and I don’t think that
opportunity will ever presents itself ever again. So, I don’t think Zynga
has that ability to do that again.

Robi: I think one of the interesting things is, that were certainly seeing
really discreet experiences, live on mobile really well. Like “Words with
Friends” is a wonderful example of taking advantage of the fact that you
know people are waiting for the bus, and they have five minutes. It’s just
great for them to be able like “duh, duh, duh”. Then they’re reminded two
hours later by their friend that they have a move to make. I think that
aspect, whether it’s through Facebook or not, that like tying into the
natural windows of opportunity on mobile, seems like a big opportunity.
But, still the prevalence of being reminded, without the space of Facebook
around it seems to be a big challenge.

Ryan: Yeah.

Robi: So that’s our thoughts on Zynga. It’s been a good conversation,
thanks for paying attention.

Ian: We’ve talked a little bit about where we think these changes are
happening, where it’s coming from, why it’s happening.

Robi: So, my personal belief is that some of it is just products age. So
the Kindle Fire at this point, is probably a little long in the tooth. It’s
probably due for a refresh…

PlacePlay Helps Game Developers Increase App Engagement & Revenue

We recently sat down with Ryan Morel, the CEO of PlacePlay, to talk about how iOS and Android game developers can use local information to really increase the relevance of the in-game leaderboards AND advertising. Ryan’s take on how their solution can actually decrease the number of impressions you have to show in your app was fascinating and really highlighted how much more relevance can come from location data.

The key takeaway: by focusing on relevance first, local information can really increase engagement and monetization. Watch the video below to find out more about increasing app revenue through in-game advertising.

Get something of value out of the video? Please share it with us in the comments or tell us what else you’d like to hear about. We’re always talking with other app entrepreneurs, whether they’re developing their own apps or building services that make apps better. You can see a recent video on app marketing and PR that we recorded with Jeff Rutherford of APPetite PR in which we discussed the ways in which app developers are building relationships with actual end customers to boost downloads and retention.

The transcript

Robi: Hi. Today we’re going to talk to Ryan Morel from PlacePlay. Thanks
for joining me, Ryan.

Ryan: Thanks for having me, Robi.

Robi: So, tell us a little bit about PlacePlay.

Ryan: Sure. Actually, we were originally an app developer and publisher,
and had some experience on carrier decks, when that was relevant. We did
Finger Physics, Gin Rummy, and a couple other games that were successful on
the App Store.

PlacePlay is a move away from game publishing, obviously, into a platform
play. It does two specific things. One, we provide features like leader
boards and tournaments, that make location and a user’s social graph
relevant in games. The second is, we provide a target and optimized ad
network for app developers.

Robi: Let’s talk a little bit more about these features, because, to be
honest, it sounds kind of like OpenFeint or Game Center, and some of these
other tools that are out there for app developers.

Ryan: Yeah, at a high level, that’s what it sounds like, but I think any
app developer can be honest and say, “What has OpenFeint or Game Center
done to really affect the engagement in my app?” If everyone actually
looked at that and paid attention, their answer would probably be, “Not
very much,” if at all. That’s the first thing, is our features actually do
improvement engagement within an app.

The second thing is, those solutions that you mentioned are essentially
separate experiences outside of the app. As you know, having played a bunch
of mobile games yourself, in order to access OpenFeint, you’ve got to go to
the main menu, search for it, click an icon, it opens up some random thing.
Nobody does that, and when you do do it, as an app developer, you’re
essentially taking your consumer and giving them somebody else’s

God knows where they go from there. That’s bad. With PlacePlay, our
features are directly integrated into the app experience itself. No one
knows we exist. It’s your game, they’re your features, and that’s what we
want it to be. The last thing is, we always believed that leader boards
were really only interesting to the top 1%-5% of players. Ultimately, if
you’re outside of that top 5%, these are demotivators.

If you go to a leader board, and you’re number 400,000 out of 1,000,000,
you’re like, “Oh God. Why am I even playing this? I’m just going to stop.”
When we think about leader boards and tournaments, we want to provide users
with the ability to self-select or automatically be placed into groups, at
a small enough level where they feel like they have a chance to actually

We can do actual place-specific leader boards and tournaments. So that
could be this office, or your home, city, state, country and world. If
you’re a pretty good player, maybe you compete in your state, if you’re
really good, maybe you compete against people in your country, and if
you’re the best, then you compete against the world. With the goal being
providing every user of the opportunity to win. That’s what people want.
They want to win.

The last big benefit of our features is it gives the developer and us
access to location and social data. We certainly don’t force anybody to use
our advertising, but if they want to, that location and social data helps
us with ad targeting, relevance, optimization, and ultimately, revenue for

Robi: One of the things that you brought up that I think is really cool, is
this notion that you can have a group that’s relevant to you that you’re
competing with all the time, which, I think, obviously makes the situation
a lot better for the end consumer, that you’ve got this group that you’re
always feeling competitive with driving you forward. What do you see? How
do you measure that and understand how that’s driving engagement?

Ryan: What we’ve actually found is that between three and eight users is
the optimal size for a group. We want people, and we try to push people, to
self-select into those sizes. You can imagine a scenario where it’s just
two of you, it’s kind of boring, right? Who cares. But when there’s between
three to eight, we find people coming back up to three times more; to try
to move up the ranking and win, which is fantastic.

Now, we chose location and social, i.e., your Facebook friends, for two
reasons. One, there’s always going to be more people in your immediate
vicinity, so your city, state, or country, than there will ever be in your
social graph. Obviously, we’re just pulling from a much bigger pile of
people. Unless you’re playing a game like Bejeweled Blitz, or some other
well-known casual titles, it’s unlikely that you’re going to have a mass of
your friends playing the same game; so we wanted to make sure there was
both. The big benefit, obviously, to having the social features is that we
provide open graph integration, so it makes it really easy for a user to
invite their friends to play with direct App Store links. The results gets
posted on Facebook to drive organic growth, etc.

Robi: That’s awesome. Another thing you brought up was your ability to
monetize, and help with the advertising [piece]. There’s obviously a lot of
mobile advertising companies out there. What makes you guys different?

Ryan: That’s funny, because when I was a publisher, we had tons of guys who
are essentially just like me now, coming in to say, “Hey, use our
advertising,” and everyone kind of had the same pitch. “We have X billions
of ad impressions. We’re going to make you tons of money. Here’s this
example of this company making fantastic [inaudible 00:05:48]” Yeah, right.

Like lots of app developers, we got burned by that multiple times. So when
we started going down the monetization route, we decided that we were going
to try to think about it a little bit differently from how the industry as
a whole is thinking about it. I think the first thing is, it’s really
noticeable when you go to almost any other monetization solution, they’ll
show you right up front how many impressions they’re serving every month,
most likely how many apps.

For whatever reason, the number of impressions being shown is supposed to
be some metric of awesomeness, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to us.
Because the only thing “seeing 100 billion impression” tells me is your
eCPM are garbage. So we’re thinking about it in terms of, we want to show
less impressions. We don’t want to show 1,000 garbage ones, we want to show
one really good one, and that will engage the user. The advertiser will pay
more for it, and ultimately, the developer wins as a result.

Robi: That makes a ton of sense. You’re more efficient with your inventory,
as a result, the developer doesn’t have to show as much inventory to make
much more money. Can you talk specifically about how click-through rates,
for example, are changing, or maybe it’s a CPA model?

Ryan: Yep. As any developer will tell you, a good click-through rate on
mobile advertising is around 1%. Probably more average is between 0.5% and
0.7%, and the secondary click-through rate, or actual ad engagement rate,
is much lower; which means one of two things. One, it was accident, they
didn’t mean to click on the ad, or two, they got there, realized that the
ad was misleading, they didn’t want it, so they clicked out. But, that’s
all bad.

In those cases, not only are we training users to essentially ignore ads,
but we’re charging money to advertisers for bad end-user engagement. They
don’t want that. The consumer doesn’t want that, because now they’ve been
essentially tricked into going somewhere else, and that’s going to hurt us
in the long run.

What we try to do is say, “Well, let’s understand where the user is, based
on their location, what they’ve engaged with, from an advertising
perspective in the past, and what are the people around them engaged with?”
For example, we know that people in Seattle, between the hours of 7:00 and
9:00 PM, tend to engage more with ads for dating services, so that’s really
interesting. So let’s not show ads from dating services after 10:00 PM and
before 7:00 PM. We only want to show them during 7:00 and 9:00.

The second thing we want to look at is, “When does that actual ad
engagement take place? Does it take place at 0 to 30 second engagement, or
does it take place at 5 minutes? Let’s identify that and let’s put the ad
there.” Instead of showing random ads for breakfast places, or for an app
that we know no one’s going to click on, we’re just not going to serve
anything. If an app developer wants, they can go get those ads from AdMob,
or whoever else, but that’s not what we’re going to do. Ultimately, and
this is a little bit of a cliche at this point, but we want to serve the
right ad to the right person at the right time, so that everyone in the
value chain wins.